Archives for October 2014

NYFF52 in the Rearview: Mr. Turner (2014)

Mike Leigh’s latest feature, Mr. Turner is a wonderfully evocative biopic about the life of English painter J.M.W Turner (1775-1851), played by Timothy Spall (Cannes Film Festival Award winner, Best Actor).

Many art enthusiasts may know the name not only for the work the landscape artist produced but, also for the prestigious prize that bears his name.

As per the director’s statement:

[Mr. Turner] is about the tensions and contrasts between this very mortal man and his timeless work, between his fragility and his strength. It is also an attempt to evoke the dramatic changes in his world over the last quarter century of his life.

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Although we enter his life story past the midway point (punctuated by the death of his father), we see his art transforming before our very eyes. A closer examination of his work (which the film refers to) shows that as the years progressed, his work got more and more abstract, reflecting his own emotional turmoil and internal conflict. And be sure, there was a lot to have caused Turner to look inward and be troubled. Aside from the acute sadness he experiences upon the passing of a most beloved father, there were a host of romantic entanglements:

  • the love of his housemaid, which he did not return, but instead exploited to his own personal satisfaction,
  • the strained relationship between himself and a former partner (and their two illegitimate children),
  • and the secret, common law relationship at the end of his life with a woman with whom he would live out his days in the London district of Chelsea.

Leigh ‘paints’ this phase of Turner’s life by showing the people, places and events that influenced his work. There must be a great freedom in being about to do this when you have a stable of actors with whom one frequently collaborates. For star Spall, this is his fifth Mike Leigh feature. The rest of the principle cast including Dorothy Atkinson, Marion Bailey, Paul Jesson, Lesly Manville, have also all worked with him in a variety of productions for television, film and the stage.

So effective was the way this film is constructed and presented, that my screening guest had not realized until our post-screening chat, that the film is based on an actual person. I point this out because I see it as a great credit to the work. Where many biopics are clearly telegraphed as such, in Mr, Turner you still retain some of that linearity, but in addition you are treated to a story that has an artistic and dramatic flare, more often associated with straight narrative features.

NYFF 52 in the Rearview: Life of Riley (2014)

The final film of renowned French filmmaker Alain Resnais (Hiroshima mon amour, Night and Fog), Life of Riley is adapted from the play Alan Ayckbourn’s of the same name. It tells the story of a group of friends coming to terms with the imminent passing of one of their own, the unseen George Riley.

Of course it can’t be THAT straightforward – as there are romantic entanglements and complications which remind the players (and the audience) that even in the midst of death, there is still a lot of life to be enjoyed.

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Photo Credit: Kino Lerber, Inc.

Set in the English countryside, Life of Riley comes off as a sort of contemporary comedy of manners. Sure at the center of the action is a morbid cloud of death looms large over the party, this film manages to balance this maudlin sentiment while also delivering some laughs for the audience.

A work of pure imagination – location shots and traditional cinematic production design crafted to replicate the real environs of the world of the rural English middle classes, is replaced with a creative mix of still photography, closeups, ‘pop’-ish renderings and sets that look like they are taken directly from a stage production.

Initially, it was a bit of a jarring experience. But once I settled into the film I was able to go with it and enjoy it.

 

A Kino Lerber release (French with subtitles).

 

 

Scary Movie(s), Part 2: Friends and Family Edition

For the second part of my Scary Movie series, I decided to poll and troll those who are nearest and dearest to me, with the promise that their individual responses would be protected by anonymity.

I posed the very basic question to them:

Select a scary movie that you “love” and describe in a couple of sentences why this is so.

All in all I would say I was quite entertained, even by the scaredy-cats, who for various reasons, do not indulge in such films. If you will notice, I left the question very vague, because scares and frights mean different things, depending on the person. So without further ado, here are the responses I received:

Sinister – I am not expert, but I liked Ethan Hawke in this and the whole trail of killings and how it turned out they connected was well executed in the film. Paranormal Activity (the first one) – this gave me nightmares and the perspective they filmed were very realistic. (These are) Just my top two, but also like (The) Conjuring and am looking forward to seeing Annabel.

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The Shining: Redrum. Redrum. The scene where the costumed partygoers look at the boy in the bedroom still creeps me out to this day. And oh yeah, talking to an evil spirit in the mirror. Not exactly my idea of a festive scene.
Alien: “10 Little Indians” Meets Outer Space. This dark, brooding film was not only depressing visually, but the main antagonist, a 7-foot, reptile-like alien which doesn’t have eyes, is pretty eerie.
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The scene in The Ring when the girl crawls out of the TV is bananas. I have never seen anything like it. it was surreal, the black and white, the color, cinematography magic.
Idk if this is considered scary, but I cannot get enough of Silence of the Lambs. I loved the creepiness of the Anthony Hopkins character, Hannibal Lecter. How he could skin a man alive and not hurt a tiny hair on Clarice. I esp. loved crazy Buffalo Bill telling the governor’s daughter to put the f#$king lotion in the basket. (I love that this person realizes that my blog is PG-13)
Lastly, I think it was Texas Chainsaw Massacre (no I did not see the movie, just a scene). the girl was in the backseat of the car and they just shot a guy and his brains were all over the seat and they made her sit on it- ewwww
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Poltergeist 1.  It was one of the first scary movie I saw as a child. My sister and I forced our parents to lock the closet door for months after watching that movie.
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I don’t really like scary movies so I haven’t watched many of them. If I had to pick one, I would say my favorite scary movie is Aliens. Some people may say it is more suspenseful than scary, but I think all really good scary movies are also really suspenseful. But I love this movie because it has a great opening sequence to set up the movie and then a quiet, slow build up to the aliens.  The movie is tense throughout from the dark, wet setting, the eery music and the almost claustrophobic feeling.
So there you have it ladies and gents. And if truth be told, when I was deciding which images to post according to the responses, I was creeping myself out a bit (luckily I had Outlander: The Wedding playing in the background as a distraction). Especially with that scene from The Shining; but I surmised what better time to face my fears :). Well almost anyways, no way would I replicate The Ring or creepy preacher man from Poltergeist (“You’re gonna die…” or something to that effect).
Lovely readers, now is your turn. Post your favorite scary movies/moments in movies in the comments section below.

NYFF52 in the Rearview: Maps to the Stars (2014)

A little late but, alas, there is a lot to say about my adventures at Lincoln Center for the 52 annual New York Film Festival.

I start with my take on David Cronenberg’s latest feature – Maps to the Stars. Penned by Bruce Wagner (an L.A. native), this film is a cutting satire about Hollywood and our celebrity obsessed culture. The film has an all-star cast lead by Cannes Festival Best Actress Award winner Julianne Moore and includes John Cusack, Mia Wasikowska, Olivia Williams and Cronenberg muse-du jour, Robert Pattinson.

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It is a cold picture in that it projects Hollywood as this plastic, glossy (at times haunting) world so very disconnected from the “ordinary” and any known reality that I am aware of. No one who inhabits this world is shown much pity; especially those who are self-professed “gurus” have in them a deeply troubling, corrosive core. As the layers of the film are revealed to the audience, this all leads to a shocking and disturbing denouement. In other words, classic Cronenberg.

While the dysfunctional interpersonal relationships (and demons) were very fascinating to watch, I could have done with more of the overarching “Hollywood is not what it appears” theme. But I guess that may have been the point – to interweave the immediate and the personal with the larger world that all of these players are a part of.

It is not a stretch to declare that Maps to the Stars is probably not for everyone – notably those of you who have gotten comfortable with some of the director’s more recent, “mainstream” (term used loosely) fare such as A History of Violence, Eastern Promises and A Dangerous Method.

There are plenty more qualified folks out there who have and will continue to speak more eloquently about the film, but in my reading some of the reviews, I noticed that there were the inevitable comparisons drawn to other films that have looked at Hollywood with a similarly caustic gaze. For me at least, I had no such thoughts. Surely, the themes of “all that glitters …” and the (potentially) corrupting nature of the machinery driving the industry are common, here with this film, the time, place and context give the story a very different tone. In that respect, Maps to the Stars kind of stands apart as a contemporary example in its dealing with the people, places and things concerning the “Dream Factory” in such an unrelenting manner.

Scary Movie, Part I: The Innocents (1961)

This post is the first in my two-part Scary Movie(s) series to “honor” the rapidly-approaching Halloween festivities.

Today I will offer for your consideration a frightfully classic Gothic ghost story – The Innocents, a British production from the year 1961. Originally released in the UK release in late November of that year, it got its United States premiere on Christmas Day – just in time for that most jolly of holidays …

An adaptation of Henry James’ Turn of the Screw, The Innocents stars Deborah Kerr as a governess whose charges exhibit increasingly strange behavior, leading to some shocking and mind boggling action.

With a screenplay by Truman Capote and direction courtesy of Jack Clayton, The Innocents is a mind-bending example of how horror/terror can be just as unsettling (in some cases more so) than even a film containing an astronomical level of blood and gore (see stab-squish-splat).

In other words, The Innocents is totally comfortable and effective in creating a menacing atmosphere through things unseen, courtesy of some expert lighting, black and white cinematography, and an accompanying haunting soundtrack composed by Georges Auric*.

There are many other details about the story that I know I am missing – with very good reason. Films like this, that play with me on a deeply psychological level, often cause me to block out some details, big and small. If that is not a ringing endorsement as to the merits of The Innocents as a film that deserves to be considered in the pantheon of “all time scary movies,” I do not know what is. In fact, many contemporary films, notably 2001’s The Others starring Nicole Kidman, owe a great stylistic debt to this film. Fun fact: the a portion of The Innocents’ soundtrack was sampled and placed on the “cursed tape” in the 2002 film The Ring.

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Courtesy of the Criterion Collection website, there is a gallery of some the behind the scenes photos. I imagine these are included in the jam-packed special edition DVD/BD that went on sale last month. Check local and online merchants for pricing information.

Have you seen The Innocents? Let me know what you thought below in the Comments section.

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* Among Auric’s film credits: Dead of Night (1945), Roman Holiday (1953), The Wages of Fear (1953), Beauty and the Beast (1946), The Lavender Hill Mob (1951).

Personal Commentary: Taking a Critical Look …

Editor’s Note: Sorry ahead of time for the lack of coherence in this post. Just decided to have a brain dump 🙂

Oftentimes I find myself examining how (and why) I look critically at the films I watch. Even though I am still rather “consumer-selective;” as a result, I am naturally able to eliminate from my screening schedule those films I have a predisposition to not like very  much.

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However, as I enter my EIGHTH year this month exploring all aspects of the world of cinema, and with my increased presence on the festival circuit, press screening invites, etc., I am often watching a film that I would not normally (willingly) go to.

In addition, I have also definitely noticed something else as the years have passed – while the content of these films may vary in quality, the actual production quality (and how we see it) has been top notch. Thanks to advances in cinematographic and photographic technologies, almost anyone can produce a clean, crisp bit of film to rival ones with budgets multiple times more.

This has produced a bit of a challenge for me as someone breaking down what I like about a particular film. With this challenge has come the wonderful learning opportunity, as I have honed my appreciation for narrative continuity, character development and suspension of disbelief (being a good thing at times). In other words, crispness/clarity of picture does not equal narrative clarity.

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Putting this analysis to text has always left me a bit apprehensive about being overly critical about a film that I have a less than favorable opinion of based on these and other personal metrics. Face to face and among those I hold near and dear, I feel a little more at liberty to dispense with more verbally subjective commentary. But in terms of this space, as I told a friend some time ago, you can tell from my blog if I really hated a movie because if you know I saw it and did not write about it … [insert conclusion].

So you may be wondering, what has inspired this verbal data dump? Well, I was at a recent festival screening (will go into detail during my festival wrap up coverage next week) and while I stared blankly at the screen, those around me were just chuckling away. In that moment, I really felt a bit out of place and wanted to get down to the root of why I was feeling this way. I mean the film was not poorly made by any stretch of the imagination, but my response was clearly the opposite of the director’s intentions.

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My conclusion? At some point I guess I just have to make peace with that and stick to the rudiments when analyzing. Hopefully in this eighth year of i luv cinema, there will be more critical analyses taking all of these considerations in mind.

Stay tuned.